Oregon Stands With Ukraine, which is providing humanitarian aid, began with Evghenia Sincariuc (first row, right). Pictured beside is her mother-in-law Olga Safina (middle) and friend Olena Pasyvenko. Standing behind them are Olena's son Glib Pasivenko and Evghenia's daughter, Alisa Safina. They are wearing traditional Ukrainian vyshivanka.

Oregon Stands With Ukraine, which is providing humanitarian aid, began with Evghenia Sincariuc (first row, right). Pictured beside is her mother-in-law Olga Safina (middle) and friend Olena Pasyvenko. Standing behind them are Olena's son Glib Pasivenko and Evghenia's daughter, Alisa Safina. They are wearing traditional Ukrainian vyshivanka.

Courtesy Irina Negrean

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Shortly after the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine, Portland resident Evghenia Sincariuc started an effort to gather supplies to send to the country. She immigrated from Ukraine in 2016, and officially became a U.S. citizen this month. What began with one woman and her family and friends has now grown into an organized and much larger scale effort called Oregon Stands With Ukraine. The group has already sent two shipments of humanitarian aid including medical supplies, non-perishable food, personal hygiene items, sleeping bags and blankets. They are currently collecting more supplies for a third. Sincariuc took in her friend, Olena Pasyvenko, who recently escaped from Kiev along with her 14-year-old son but was forced to leave her mother and husband behind. Pasyvenko and Sincariuc join us to tell their stories.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: Earlier this month there was a massive naturalization ceremony at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. When it was done, there were 500 new US citizens. Evghania Sincariuc was one of them. She came to the US from Ukraine. Since Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine, Sincariuc has been organizing to collect and send aid to her former home. More recently, she has taken in a mother and her teenage son who fled that war. Later on in this show we will bring you a conversation I had with that mother. We start with Evghania, who I talked to yesterday. I asked her when she left Ukraine.

Evghenia Sincariuc: I immigrated to the United States of America in 2016 after the first invasion of Russia.

Miller: So was it the first invasion that led you to come to the US?

Sincariuc: Yes, the first Russian invasion of Ukraine was in 2014. Things became quite complicated so we decided to move and our relatives and our parents who were here. So it was a hard decision but it happened.

Miller: How did you end up fully deciding to make that hard decision?

Sincariuc: First of all, we have parents and we are responsible for our kids. We had a small daughter at that moment and she’s a teenager right now, but at that moment she was quite small and there were some events that we were frightened of. It was a very hard decision to leave our country, to leave our friends and relatives.

Miller: How were you able over time to build a new life in the US?

Sincariuc: Honestly, we were so lucky because we had parents here. We made a lot of new friends. Our community is quite strong and we were able to integrate quite quickly. So maybe for the first half a year, I missed my home very much, but later, once we had friends and a job, we realized that it’s our new home and it became a happy place for us. So life became quite easy.

Miller: What kind of work were you able to find?

Sincariuc: So my first job I worked was at IRCO (Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization). It’s the organization that works with immigrants and refugees. And it resonated with me at that time. And now I have been working for five years already for a nonprofit called Neighborhood House that also works with underrepresented people from different communities. And we work with immigrants and refugees as well.

Miller:  So your job now is to help people, some of whom are newly-arrived to the US, to learn how to integrate into their new country?

Sincariuc: So in my current position I am a program parenting program coordinator. I help parents to get resources to have this support that they need from different cultures and a lot of them are new immigrants. Even now, I have a series of classes for parents in the Slavic community. And a lot of them are new immigrants and some of them are refugees In one sense. Yes.

Miller: Did you know from the beginning when you arrived in 2016 that you were going to pursue American citizenship?

Sincariuc: Honestly, it’s an interesting question. yes, probably in a couple of months I realized that I wanted to be a US citizen. It’s the thing I wanted to do. I wanted to build a life here with my family and start everything from a new page. And yes, I would definitely say yes.

Miller: You were naturalized as a US citizen about a week and a half ago at the Oregon Convention Center. I’ve read it was the largest naturalization ceremony ever in Oregon. What did it mean to you to officially become a citizen of the USA?

Sincariuc: It definitely was a very important moment in my life. I would say it was so beautiful and it was so powerful.  The moment the ceremony was over, I had so many emotions and I realized that day that I became a responsible citizen and I was so proud of myself and my family was so proud and that meant a lot. So I’m so proud and happy to become a US citizen.

Miller: What was it like though to become a citizen of the US when the country you had come from is facing an existential threat from Russia?

Sincariuc: I definitely can say that now I feel that I can add more support to Ukraine once I became a US citizen. I work with other volunteers and recently we’re sending humanitarian aid. And I feel a little bit more responsible right now because I have more possibilities and I will be continuing to work to support Ukraine.

Miller: How is it that you think you’ll have to be able to help more? I mean, and I’m wondering if because you know, theoretically you were not theoretically able to collect goods, humanitarian goods and to send them even say with a green card. So what do you think you’ll be able to do now as a citizen that you couldn’t do before?

Sincariuc: We can call senators that I couldn’t do. I’m so glad that now I am a US citizen and I live in a free country where I can talk freely and have this opportunity to bring and raise awareness of what is happening in other countries. I’m really blessed.

Miller: I’m wondering. We’ve talked to a number of Oregonians from Ukraine over the last almost two months now, and it seems like there has been some question about in the lead up to the war whether or not they thought that it would actually happen, this serious escalation following a simmering war from 2014 onward. Did you think that this massive invasion would actually happen?

Sincariuc: Honestly not. I thought that any war of any kind, even when a small part was attacked, it’s a horrible thing and I couldn’t even imagine that it would be so massive.  At the moment we fled the country, I thought it would be maybe longer and it would take more years to live in peace. But I couldn’t imagine that the war would become so violent and so many people would die. And that’s something that a lot of people and I couldn’t imagine. Yes, it’s impossible to even imagine what people are going through right now. And a lot of Ukrainians are separated from their families and a lot of them don’t even have to have a home right now. Their home is destroyed and their lives are completely destroyed.

Miller: How much have you been in contact with friends or family in Ukraine over the last two months?

Sincariuc: Since the war started, our life completely changed here and I would tell you that being far from your friends and family is so awful. And our morning would start with calling everyone, texting everyone and checking if they’re okay and offering what kind of support we can provide for them. And the same thing happened in the evening because we have a time difference with Ukraine. Reading all the news, monitoring everything and so over and over again every single day was almost the same morning and evening, checking how our loved ones are. Friends, relatives and everyone in Ukraine is very active right now. Not every city was so lucky to have internet electricity. And a lot of our friends and relatives live in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. So we were able to talk and text each other over things like Messenger, Viber, WhatsApp and so on.

Miller: What have you heard that people need the most?

Sincariuc: Of course, different regions experienced different humanitarian crises and water was one of the most essential things because when some missiles attacked the stations, the quality of water had changed a lot. And when people were staying in bomb shelters, water was very essential. Sleeping bags, medications. We have to remember that a lot of people have diabetes and they need support every single day, the kids with cancer and medical doctors, sorry, I become emotional. Doctors needed to take care of those kids. And pregnant women were giving birth in bomb shelters and in the subway. So medical supplies, water, hygiene food, everything was essential.

Miller: What have you been able to collect here in Oregon to send over?

Sincariuc: Here in Oregon with other volunteers, we collected in our community and with the support of all Oregonians, we were able to send 400 boxes on the plane. It was dry food. It was some medical supplies that we could buy over-the-counter and sleeping bags, blankets and hygiene stuff.

Miller: How much support have you gotten from non Ukrainian friends here since the war started?

Sincariuc: It was a lot of our community in Oregon. It’s amazing. It was a lot of people, former colleagues were calling me offering support and every single person from different parts and my friends told me the same that when we announced humanitarian aid to Ukraine, a lot of people came from different communities. People spoke different languages so it was awesome. It was a huge community spirit.

Miller: Are you still collecting supplies to send?

Sincariuc: Yes, after that we were able to– with volunteers as well– to send ship cargo with 500 boxes. But the ship will be there in 2-3 months. And we are collecting things right now as well, the same medical supplies and we are now focused on baby drive formula and hygiene stuff and dry food.

Miller: But as I mentioned in my introduction, you’re not just sending supplies to Ukraine. You have taken a friend of yours and her son who fled the war into your own home recently. And that friend is on the call with us now, would you mind translating an interview for us?

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Sincariuc: Yes, definitely. Sure.

Miller: Olena Pasyvenko, thank you very much for joining us.

Olena Pasyvenko:  Thank you for having me today.

Miller: Where were you living before this major escalation in the war?

Pasyvenko  (translated by Sincariuc): I was born and raised in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

Miller: What happened when the bombing started?

Pasyvenko: On February 24th in the early morning, I could hear the bombing and some explosions, but from the beginning I thought that it was fireworks. And my husband approached the window and he could see missiles and airplanes and he realized that the war started. He woke me up and explained that the war had started and then we woke up our son. We had to leave the apartment quickly. Then my husband told me to go and help with other things for our son. And he went to pick up the car from the garage and I started to pack the clothes and just the essential clothes that we would need. But it was so hard to do that because I started to hear the explosions quite often.

Miller: Olena before we go further, I just want to say that I’m very grateful to be able to have this conversation with you, but I just want to make sure and let our audience understand why you agreed to do this interview given that it does mean being asked questions about terrible, terrible things you’ve recently experienced.

Pasyvenko: I’m doing that right now because a lot of things and Russian media are not true and I am the person who experienced that and I am sharing my personal experience. I want to let everyone know that Russians, in just one moment, took the homes and jobs from all the Ukrainians and just destroyed their lives. And I just want everyone to know the truth.

Miller: Where did you and your family initially escape to?

Pasyvenko: We were driving to our friend’s house that is situated 40 km from our house on the highway. And I’m so it’s the village with the name  .

Miller: Did you have access to food and water there and shelter from the beginning?

Pasyvenko: The first couple of days, we had some food and after that there was no food in the store, so the power was off and we didn’t have water. So we had to go and take the water from the spring in the forest.

Miller: But there was no food for how many days?

Pasyvenko: So we were without food for seven days. And then luckily the humanitarian aid from Italy came and my friend and I were able to distribute it; it was not a lot, but anyway we could distribute all these things to the whole village.

Miller: How much could you walk around during the day or at night? I guess I’m wondering how close you were to bombs or artillery fire?

Pasyvenko: It was very hard to understand what day it was.  We couldn’t walk because we were surrounded by the Russian occupants and the road that led to Kiev was going through our village. So we could hear very distinctively the artillery fighters bombing because it was very close to us. And in some short time, we were able to distinguish between air defense, artillery fired missiles. So we definitely could distinguish them according to the sound.

Miller: Your son is 14, if I’m not mistaken. What were those days like for him?

Pasyvenko: He probably couldn’t understand what was happening. But later, when bombing started and we could hear missiles very often, I would definitely say that he even tried to be brave during the day, but in the evening he was more scared. And a lot of days were like this so he was staying at home. But later in the week he decided to go out to play with the ball. And one day when he decided to play a little bit in the yard, the explosion happened and it was very loud and he was so scared. So he’s scared to death.

Miller: I understand that your husband and other people there were able to in some ways shield the village from Russian attacks. Can you describe what they did?

Pasyvenko: So on the day when we arrived at the village on the 24th, my husband and other villagers  immediately organized the territorial defense and they started first to get rid of the road signs that showed the way to Kiev and they took down the signs. They created that checkpoint and in addition to that they painted over all the reflective check marks that the sabotage group from Russian side put on object so that they could see from airplane and hit the target with bombing. In addition to that, a lot of people in the village were from Kiev and a lot of them had guns and weapons because they were hunters and they could bring them with them. And that was also a little bit of small protection. And the main help was that we could call the Intelligence service just in case we saw Russians nearby and we could tell them the location. A lot of people were in collaboration, like civilian people, were in collaboration with that. An Intelligence service would check that information and they would start their own operations.

Miller: How were you eventually able to flee that village with your son?

Pasyvenko: It was a very hard decision, but it was very hard to live there because we were under the fear of missile attacks and I realized that all these affect my son’s psychological state as well as mine.  My husband was able to convince me that we needed to leave. And after Evghania, our friend, kindly offered us a place to stay here in Portland and invited us here. So we took that and agreed to go. Our road to go from that village was very long towards the border. We were driving among the minefields. And so we were driving for a very, very long time and it was very hard and I was scared because we didn’t even know where the Russian sabotage groups were and we were afraid that we wouldn’t be able to drive to our destination. During our road trip I would definitely say that the roads were awful. After bombing, they were in very bad state.  On our way driving to the western part of Ukraine, we had two nights of stops. Because air raid alerts were so often, we were so afraid and I could definitely say that it was very scary as well. And, in two days we were able to get to the western part of Ukraine.

Miller:  Was your husband with you on this trip, Ukrainian?

Pasyvenko: My husband was with us the whole way so he drove us to the western part of Ukraine. And when he brought us to the border with Western part of Ukraine and Hungary, he organized with a man, a volunteer, to help pick us at the border. And then that man drove us to Budapest to the airport. It was also very scary and I was a little bit frightened but I couldn’t cry because I had my son with me and I had to be very strong just for him. There we had a night in the hotel and the next day we had a flight to Amsterdam on the way to the US.

Miller: My understanding is that you were able to come to the US because you had a visa from I think five years ago that was still valid. How are you spending your days in Oregon right now?

Pasyvenko: When we came to Portland, on the first couple of days we were still frightened of loud sounds and even when the dog was barking. That was our muscles reacting and working. We were so frightened by loud sounds like dogs. Even when something dropped on the floor, we were a little bit scared. A couple of days later we were able to enroll my son to school and I would like to say that it’s so nice. People in Oregon are so kind and open and they greeted my son in school with so much kindness and warmth. Everyone offered their support, help and we’re really touched and now that really helps my son to get distracted from the things that are happening in our country and he started to have some friends that are really awesome. And, of course, I am relieved and calm. Right now I am trying to study and learn English and would like to have a job in order to be more independent. Our friends invited us and they take care of us and feed us, but we would, of course, like to support ourselves and provide for ourselves in the future with our own work and possibilities.

Miller: Olena, your husband and your mother were not able to come to the US  with you. Have you been able to talk with him?

Pasyvenko:  Of course, I contact my family, my husband and my mom a couple of times per day. Now they’re able to, they were able to return back to Kiev. But in Kiev it’s also a little bit dangerous right now. (Translator- Sorry,  because I try to remember a lot of things)

Miller: Yeah. I don’t know how you’re doing. It seems extraordinary what you’re doing.

Pasyvenko: In Kiev a lot of times during the day you could hear air raid alert and people have to be safe going to bomb shelters because people who live in apartment, it’s quite dangerous for them to stay on last floors. Olena didn’t tell me that but it’s kind of my explanation. Sorry. So it’s very dangerous here in Kiev anyway right now that’s why I am. I’m worried about them because we live in apartments that are quite high like 20-floor apartments and our region in Kiev is situated next_________ to those places that had awful situations and massive awful things also happened there.

Miller: Olena, you mentioned wanting to learn English and wanting to get a job now to help out in the house of Evghania who’s translating for you right now. Is your plan to go back to Ukraine?

Pasyvenko: I would definitely like to go back to Ukraine. But unfortunately it’s not safe right now and I can’t risk the life of my child to bring him back there. So for now I would like to stay here where it is safe and provide that safety for my son. And I’d like to learn English, get a job and provide for my son till that moment when it’s safe in Ukraine and meanwhile give him that wonderful opportunity of safety and everything that we have here in this wonderful country.

Miller: What do you most want people listening now to know about what’s happening in Ukraine?

Pasyvenko: (crying) I’d like everyone to know that you can’t believe Russians. What they’re doing now is an awful thing and they’re trying to get rid of Ukraine as a country, get rid of it as a country on the map there. What they’re doing is a genocide of Ukrainian nation, they kill and try to destroy old people, women, kids, all the civilians that are not even military people. So, it’s not a special operation. It’s a really awful war that destroys all the Ukrainians. And I want people to know that it’s impossible to live in this (translator holding back tears). Sorry. Okay. I wanted to say that what they are doing not only killing people that they were raping women and kids and that’s that’s so awful. And it’s impossible to imagine that so much cruelty could be in one nation towards another one (sobbing).

Miller: Olena Pasyvenko and Evghenia Sincariuc, thank you very much, both of you for joining us today.

Sincariuc: Thank you.

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